Peer Mentoring -- Strengthening The ADHD Community

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Have you heard this story?

This girl is walking down the street when she falls in a hole. The walls are so steep she can't get out. A doctor passes by and the girl shouts up, 'Hey Doc. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a judge comes along and the girl shouts up, Judge, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The judge writes out an order, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Grace, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our girl says, 'Grace. are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'

For young people with ADHD, ADDYTeens like me, this story should sound very familiar. Through no fault of our own, ADDYTeens find ourselves in a hole. So many things others consider easy we find challenging, frustrating and at times overwhelming. There are prescriptions to help us focus. There are laws to provide us with accommodations. Unfortunately, the many professionals in our lives -- doctors, therapists, teachers and even clergy -- don't teach us how to get out of this hole. Want to get out? I will jump down with you and show you how (hint, read my guide).

Any athlete, musician, artist and student knows that the most effective way to master a skill is to learn from and practice with someone who has been there, done that, and can teach you the steps to achieve success. Think about it. A freshman basketball player learning from a Senior star will improve more quickly than by playing with friends. A brand new cook studies the senior chef to learn techniques, tips and ideas. Medical students work with experienced physicians before they treat patients. If you want to master your challenges, it is best to learn from mentors who have blazed a trail, and can lead you through it, step by step.

This summer, I am a mentoring young ADDYTeens who struggle to manage their ADHD. Like practicing plays in any sport, my sessions are focused on helping these ADDYTeens to break down the challenge of managing ADHD into steps that can be practiced. By explaining why practicing these steps is so important, and by teaching them core skills and techniques, these young ADDYTeens will have an easier time getting get out of their own hole, and then set out on their own path to success with ease and confidence.

We all need a boost once in awhile, and there is no shame in asking a friend or mentor for help.

The ADDYTeens I mentor all see their ADHD as a personal defect. I show them that everyone has to overcome some type of obstacle, and actively managing ADHD can actually be a source of strength and an engine for learning perseverance. I also learn from these ADDYTeens. I learn what they discuss with their parents, doctors and therapists. I learn that their medication may sometimes help but is really not a solution to managing ADHD. More importantly, I very often hear first hand that the professionals helping these ADDYTeens often do not have ADHD themselves.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote my first blog on The Huffington Post, I had just turned 18. I attempted to explain to my readers what having ADHD is really like. I made this effort particularly because so many people of read my blog, have visited my website -- www.addyteen.com -- or contacted me by email are the parents, caregivers and teachers of ADDYTeens who do not have ADHD and find it challenging to help their ADDYTeens get out of their hole. Here is what I wrote:

Envision this: Five teens line up to race the 1000 meters. Four of them wear shorts and sneakers and the fifth is wearing a hazmat suit and a 30-pound backpack. It should not surprise anyone that the fifth runner will not likely outpace the others. Now imagine the hazmat suit and the 30-pound backpack are transparent -- that is what it is like to have ADHD. Teens with ADHD often feel ashamed, stigmatized, embarrassed and isolated. Everyone wonders why we are not the fastest runner.

It's hard to really help someone with ADHD, if you cannot empathize with them personally. My first hand anecdotal experience of having and managing ADHD provides younger ADDYTeens with comfort, community and confidence. This peer-to-peer mentoring works! ADHD aside, teenagers and young adults speak a similar language, a connection adults and professionals may not be able to have with younger generations. This rings true as young people identify more with other young people rather than parents or teachers. To challenge and break old habits, one must be find a better, more concrete and stable alternative. As an ADHD advocate and mentor, I am working on improved ways for ADDYTeens to learn, manage and thrive with ADHD in a way that is easy to understand, practice, and earn that sense of accomplishment. This is what creates a positive virtue cycle and reduces the sense of shame about having ADHD.

The ADDYTeens I mentor identify with me and are inspired by my success because I am just a handful of years older than them. We share similar experiences. As they make connections between their experiences with ADHD and mine, their attitudes soften, their imagination sparks and they become more open to the idea that even with ADHD and its many challenges they can manage positive change. They just needed help from a mentor who has been there - in the hole - and got out.

Sure, my ADHD remains a challenge. However, I am not frightened or fearful about my ADHD anymore. We of us with ADHD has common experiences, we all ADDYTeens are in a race that seems unfair. Nonetheless, life requires we race on.

Mentors with ADHD can help younger ADDYTeens succeed, and race forward in life with more confidence. I am doing it, I hope others reading my blog with ADHD will too.

There are more than 6 million ADDYTeen nationwide with ADHD, many millions more around the world. The majority of whom live with a stagnant shame and many fears about being unable to succeed. Many ADDYTeens start off just like I did: pre-teens with no guidance; no idea what steps to follow to ensure their success and stability. Doctors, teachers, and parents without ADHD may provide an ADDYTeen with medication, and emotional support but ultimately it's not that easy to provide true guidance without a first hand experience with ADHD. Managing and mastering any set of skills -- academic, artistic, athletic, or social -- is so much easier when you have direction and guidance from someone with similar circumstances and experiences. ADDYTeens need effective guidance and support from experienced mentors to thrive with their ADHD and get out of their deep hole, just like that Freshman basketball player is more likely to make varsity by practicing with the Seniors.

Ready to start? Start with these few steps:

  1. Visit my facebook page, and post about yourself, your experience with ADHD, and what type of help or support you may want from a mentor.
  2. Visit my site, and post a question or a comment for me to answer.
  3. Read my free guide.
  4. Contact me about mentoring, or setting up a mentoring session at your school.
  5. Reach out to successful family members, friends or even a neighbor with ADHD for specific ideas for success.

Also, look out for my first book -- which provides step by step instructions that will help ADDYTeens learn how to get out of their hole, and race on in life.

Take action! Take control of your ADHD.